Red light, green light (travel to Mexico)

With all the publicised violence in Mexico (mostly related to the war on drugs), we thought it would be appropriate to write about our experiences. We have visited Mexico more than a dozen times, have travelled by car through large areas and have yet to have anything resembling a bad experience. In fact, we have been greeted warmly by locals and have many wonderful stories of truly pleasant people. Some of the people we met are now counted among our friends.

Getting there from anywhere in North America is fast and easy. No visa is required and your passport is the only documentation you will need. Red light, green light refers to the way the customs process is handled. After having your passport stamped in immigration, you pick up your luggage and line up for customs. In Canada or the US, you generally play 50 questions with the customs officer and then are free to go. In Mexico, you walk up to the officer and push a big button. The light comes on green or red and it is totally random. Green means you pass without any questions and are free to enter the country. Red means your bags are thoroughly searched on the spot and in the open. No talking your way out of anything and the Mexican authorities have zero tolerance for drugs or weapons. While most of the time you get green, we have done the “red” routine on at least one or two occasions. Be prepared to have your tighty whiteys open to the world and if you happen to be transporting any bedroom toys, I hope you don’t blush easily.

From the airport onward it is smooth sailing. You can have a car pre-rented or pick one up there easily. Gas is cheap and the roads are good. You can also pre-book transportation to the hotel if it is not included in your package. Nightlife is plentiful and safe. Basic safety applies as it would in all countries including here in Canada. Common sense also applies. Keep away from illegal substances or activities and Mexico is a great place to travel through.

Some thoughts for the drivers though. You will see military checkpoints along highways. They too are inspecting for weapons or drugs. They are heavily armed and look intimidating but pose no problem at all to vacationers. Stop, smile and open the trunk. They may or may not want to quickly open any suitcases. You are on your way in seconds without problems. They don’t ask for ID. And stick to the speed limits. The Federal police have a knack for spotting tourists speeding and are more than pleased to pull you over and ask for a generous donation. Always a good idea to have some cash on you in case you need to cover a fine.

Given our affection for the country and people of Mexico, it is disheartening to hear the media play up the relatively few incidents (and very few which involve innocent tourists). Don’t be afraid to consider it for your next relaxing inexpensive vacation. If you are a first timer, stick to the tourist areas of the Yucatan or the west coast. We would be happy to be on a plane there tonight.

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